American Sign Language (ASL) is one of the most widely used languages in the United States.
ASL is primarily used by Deaf and hard of hearing Americans and Canadians. In addition, ASL is used by: 1) hearing children of deaf parents; 2) hearing siblings and relatives of the deaf, and 3) hearing adults who are becoming deaf and are learning ASL from other deaf individuals. Additionally, a growing population of hearing, second-language students are learning ASL in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary classrooms.
ASL is a visual language. It has its own grammatical rules and semantics.
ASL is deeply rooted in the Deaf Community and Culture. Early sign language was already in use in Colonial America, notably in Martha's Vineyard Island where many deaf people once lived. In 1817, Laurent Clerc, the first deaf teacher in American came from Paris, France to Hartford, Connecticut with Thomas Gallaudet to set up the first school for the deaf. He used French Sign Language in his teachings which led to the standardization of early American Sign Language into modern American Sign Language. The folklore, the history of Deaf people, cultural values and arts are expressed and preserved through ASL.
There are approximately 250,000 - 500,000 ASL users in USA and Canada (Baker and Cokely, 1980). Most of them use ASL as their primary language.
At least thirty-five (35) States have recognized ASL as a modern language for public schools. Hundreds of colleges/universities (at least 750, Cokely 1986) in the United States are offering ASL classes. Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC offers a four-year bachelor program in ASL.